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Opinion

Is This Rock Bottom for Raiders? Maybe Not

Photo: Raiders.com

Is This Rock Bottom for Raiders? Maybe Not

If you thought the Raiders loss in London was bad, perhaps you’re rethinking the definition of the word after the Raiders are thoroughly embarrassed on national television in a loss to their rivals from San Francisco.

Hear that? That’s the villagers grabbing their pitchforks.

Raider Nation starts off its weekend in open revolt as the rebuilding Raiders were absolutely throttled in a 34-3 loss to the San Francisco 49ers last night. Many are questioning whether head coach Jon Gruden will even be back. Certainly, a guy with that much pride can’t take a 1-15 season that almost seems certain at this point. Right?

Wrong.

As bad as things are – and I am not sugar-coating just how bad they are – it’s not about the now. Fans are fans and are completely entitled to their emotional outrage and disappointment at how this team is performing. Even the most passionate fans had already come to accept the team was rebuilding and winning wasn’t going to come in bunches. After a bounce-back performance (albeit in another loss) against the Colts, the Raiders regressed in every possible fashion being thumped by cross-town rivals the 49ers. It wasn’t even close. There wasn’t any fight on defense and the offense again sputtered with a patchwork offensive line and a Derek Carr not afforded anytime to throw.

Mullens lit up the Oakland defense and even made history with the best passer rating by a quarterback in his first start since the merger in 1970.

As Clint Eastwood said as Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Highway in the classic film Heartbreak Ridge, it was a “cluster-fu*k.”

Unprepared?

The Raiders looked unmotivated and ill-prepared to play a third-string quarterback in Nick Mullens who was making his first professional regular-season start. Mullens lit up the Oakland defense and even made history with the best passer rating by a quarterback in his first start since the merger in 1970. He finished 16-of-22 for 262 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 151.9.

While Gruden was quick to say he and his team weren’t surprised by Mullens’ ability, he also made it a back-handed compliment stating the quarterback had an easy time due to the Raiders softness against the run.

“No, he’s a guy who’s athletic and he can throw the ball,” Gruden said when asked if Mullens had surprised the Raiders. “He had a couple of wide-open receivers early and inexcusable errors by us. But, when you can run the ball like the 49ers ran it tonight, it makes playing quarterback a whole lot easier.”

doug martin oakland raiders rock bottom

The much-maligned Doug Martin came to play running for 49 yards on 11 carries. Photo: Raiders.com

The Raiders, simply, could not stop the 49ers in any fashion. The 49ers did rush for 143 yards but it was the Raiders knack for giving up the big play that again spelled their doom. Two of the 49ers touchdowns came on plays over 20 yards including a 52-yard score by running back Raheem Mostert who hit paydirt before leaving with a forearm injury. San Francisco racked up 405 yards on offense averaging a staggering 7.5 yards per play. They must have felt they were playing a high school defense.

When asked if he could praise the effort of his team as he had done after previous losses this year, Gruden didn’t mince words.

“I don’t think so,” Gruden said. “I’m not going to say anything about the effort. I know there were some big plays and I thought the guys fought until the end. Offensively, I know we were depleted up front, had some guys playing out of position. Defensively, I thought they hung in there under some dire situations late in the game. But, I’ll take a look at the tape.”

You see who really wants to be here. Who really wants to turn this thing around. Who really wants to do the hard things that nobody else wants to do? It’s easy to say, ‘Mmm, I’ll go do it somewhere else.’ That’s easy. I think we figure that out, and I think that going forward we find out who’s a Raider, honestly. – Derek Carr

I have to disagree with the assertion Gruden makes about guys fighting until the end. Most certainly there are Raiders who want to be Raiders and those guys did play until the end. Still, there are players who you can observe are mentally checked out. What do the Raiders do about them when you’re only midway through this downright awful 2018 season?

Are Guys Quitting?

Even the docile and amiable Derek Carr has come to the point where he can see guys quitting and checking out. Despite his own struggles, Carr is a fighter and he called out those who have already given up on the season.

“I think going forward, we build that trust and see who really wants to be a part of this,” Carr said. “You see who really wants to be here. Who really wants to turn this thing around. Who really wants to do the hard things that nobody else wants to do? It’s easy to say, ‘Mmm, I’ll go do it somewhere else.’ That’s easy. I think we figure that out, and I think that going forward we find out who’s a Raider, honestly.”

Carr reiterated “I’m not going anywhere,” but that may or may not be his choice in the end. But that’s a different subject for a different post.

oakland raiders defense

The 2018 Raiders defense may be one of the worst in franchise history – and that’s saying a lot. Photo: Raiders.com

The fact remains this team is rebuilding. Losing isn’t the surprise but the lack of fight was what was concerning. There are players on this team who have given up on their coach, their teammates, and the organization. When you see professional athletes, who make a ton of money to play a game, do that, you have to be very concerned.

As I’ve written time and time again, the plan here is not known fully to us and this organization is building for the future – not the now. Gruden doesn’t care what the antagonistic Bay Area media think of him or his team. They’re the soon-to-be ex-wife and he knows the negativity is here to stay. He knows he’s got to get along with her until he moves out of the house and he’s going to soldier on.

The questions about building this team will come and they should. Yet Thursday’s game did add new wrinkles and Gruden and company need to address it quickly. Gruden lit into his defensive coordinator Paul Guenther twice on the sidelines Thursday. There clearly are issues and they go beyond a lack of talent on the field.

There will be more losses (after last night, I can’t see this team winning another game) and more turmoil and roster shake ups. Those aren’t surprising. What has been surprising is the quit in this team. Gruden and his staff have to own that. There’s no way around it.

Still, you either trust the process, or you don’t. And I fully understand those who don’t and are quickly rethinking if the return of Gruden to the sideline is worth it. I, for one, think there’s more house to clean and Gruden is following the plan accordingly. That means lots more pain and misery for the loyal fan base.

There will be more losses (after last night, I can’t see this team winning another game) and more turmoil and roster shake ups. Those aren’t surprising. What has been surprising is the quit in this team. Gruden and his staff have to own that. There’s no way around it.

It Can – and Will – Get Much Worse

Here’s the thing: I think this will only get worse. It’s only Week 9 and the Raiders have to play Kansas City twice, the Los Angeles Chargers once, Denver, and the Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals (all in early playoff contention) too.

This could get much, much worse.

“There’s still eight games and you’ve got to hope that [Head] coach [Jon Gruden] and [Oakland Raiders GM Reggie] Mr. McKenzie have brought in the right people, because everyone’s human,” Carr said after the game about the rest of the season. “You go through hard things, especially nowadays, a lot of people just give up. I believe that talking to our guys, talking to our leaders, no one’s giving up. No one’s giving in. Something I just kept saying was we’ve still got to compete as men.”

The next few weeks should certainly tell the Raiders, and their fans, who the men are and who believe in the master plan the team is carrying out before our eyes.

Scott Gulbransen is an accomplished broadcasting, social media, public relations, writing pro, and thought leader and the founder, host and executive producer of Silver and Black Today on the Raiders flagship station Raider Nation Radio in Las Vegas. He has managed and led public relations, social media and digital marketing at some of America's largest brands and is the former Global Head of Digital Content at Haymon Boxing, creators of the Premier Boxing Champions series.

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